Monday, November 28, 2011

My Life in Disaster: Couch Commerce Can Ease Holiday Shopping Stress!

With Thanksgiving behind us and the holidays not too far into the future I start to feel the pressure. From the beginning of last week we have been bombarded with "incentives" to get to the stores ASAP, or else the deals would pass us by.

According to this morning's online news sites Black Friday sales this year have broken records, with 226 million shoppers spending an average of $398.62 versus last year's 212 million shoppers who spent $365.34. Retail sales went up 6.6 percent. Apparently we don't even want to wait until the brick and mortars open up at midnight after Thanksgiving day anymore - with Turkey day online sales up almost 40 percent.

My best friend, Margaret, and I used to be two of those shoppers who woke up Friday morning--the shops opened up at 6:00 am back then--braving the chaos. We would take turns waiting on line as the other shopped for the latest toys on our kids' list to Santa. We made sure every wish their little hearts desired was fulfilled--only to watch them throw the toys aside a month later, to play with the packaging they came in.

Now that Black Friday is behind us, full steam ahead we barrel through to Cyber Monday. Here's where I breathe a sigh of relief. With just a few clicks on my keypad, I can put a dent in my Christmas shopping list.

Today, not only are major retailers offering huge deals, but so is the Red Cross at They are offering free shipping today only as well as discounts on some best-selling items. I bought a Red Cross track jacket at 50 percent off with free shipping. That is a pretty good deal! Not only can I check off one person off my gift list, I can do so feeling good about where my money is going.

The Red Cross Holiday gift catalog is the place to shop for gifts that mean something. As you browse the catalog you not only see how you can help, but you also become informed of exactly what the Red Cross does. The global scope of their service is inspiring.

One line of gifts centers around those currently serving in the armed forces. You can send a military comfort kit to a wounded service member. The kit provides them with a robe, shower shoes, a phone card to call home and an MP3 music gift card. Another way to give back to our brave service members is by buying a Hygiene Kit for homeless vets. A staggering one third of homeless adults are veterans. This kit provides them a toothbrush, shaver, washcloth and other hygiene essentials.

For $75.00 you can buy a bicycle to help a Red Cross volunteer across the globe reach remote villages. You can help provide support for first responders, as they battle against disaster. You can provide food and shelter for victims of disaster worldwide, or right here in your own neighborhood.

However you want to help -- the choice is personal, but the benefit will be universal.

My Life in Disaster is a series of blog posts by Maha Awad, who is volunteering with the Red Cross and finding out first-hand what it means to be prepared for life’s many disasters.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

“Dad, you saved my life.”

I have been a Red Cross employee for about sixteen years, serving primarily as a community affairs agent for the Atlanta Chapter. From 1994 until 2003 I was a Red Cross Community CPR instructor, teaching others how to manage choking, breathing and cardiac emergencies. In short, I wasn’t one of those people who needed to be convinced that CPR training was effective; I lived it for a good part of my Red Cross life.

Fast forward to August 2011 when my family—yours truly, wife Donna, 18-year-old daughter Ashley and 14-year-old son Chris—were dining in a southwest Atlanta steakhouse. This particular outing was no different than any other. We were eating our meals and engaged in light conversation when it happened. My son Chris grabbed his throat, stood up and started to gasp. The look in his eyes could best be described as a death glare: eyes wide open, fixed and looking straight ahead as if he were gazing at the Grim Reaper, black cloak, boney fingers, sickle and all. At that moment time stopped, and other restaurant patrons faded into the background.

Chris continued to grab his throat and everyone, and I mean everyone, in the restaurant looked on, but oddly, no one moved to help. I then remember whizzing past my wife—she says that I knocked her out of the way—picking Chris up and applying abdominal thrusts for conscious choking victims. After two or three thrusts, the steak came out, Chris started to cough and I came back down to earth. Everyone looked on nervously but happy that they’d just witnessed a life-saving event. Chris thanked me, hugged me, kissed me and said, “Dad, you saved my life.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that "Choking on food causes the death of approximately one child every five days in the United States. Hot dogs accounted for 17 percent of food-related asphyxiations among children younger than 10 years of age. . . ." (The Washington Post, February 22, 2010). I thank my lucky stars that Chris didn’t become part of that number.

So the moral of my story is that everyone should make time to learn CPR. The life you save may be the life of someone near and dear. I love my family more than life itself and I’m glad that I knew what to do.

Ruben Brown is the media relations specialist for the Atlanta Red Cross

Monday, November 7, 2011

My Life in Disaster: The New York City Marathon 2011

Six member of Team Red Cross on Staten Island before the race.
 The ING New York City Marathon took place yesterday on a perfect autumn day. I was lucky enough to witness first-hand the enthusiasm of these athletes. I volunteered to take pictures for the Red Cross and woke up at five in the morning. My husband was kind enough to drop me off a block before Fort Wadsworth, in Staten Island, at six in the morning. It was my second time as an eyewitness to this momentous event.

Years ago as part of Lambda Chi sorority, at St. John’s University, I volunteered to hand out hot drinks and bagels to the runners. It was cold and dark that November morning, and my sorority sisters and I were recovering from Halloween parties from the night before. So maybe we weren’t as enthusiastic as we should have been. Well that was our loss! Despite waking up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday, and searching for the Red Cross team of runners, among the over 40,000 participants for about an hour and half, I would do it again in a heartbeat.

It was a record-breaking race. The winner of the men’s category Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai broke the previous record by more than two minutes, finishing at 2 hrs 5 min and 6 sec. The women’s favorite and lead runner of the female contenders, Mary Keitany, could not hold on and lost her lead in the last mile of the race to Ethopian natives Firehiwot Dado and Buzunesh Deba, who came in first and second in the women’s category.

Runners from all over the United States and one hundred and ten countries came to participate in this iconic marathon. Of the 43,741 starters, 43,475 runners finished, including the oldest runners of the race Yolande Marois, 84 and Peter Harangozo, 88, who came in at 7:41:04 and 7:53:02 respectively.

I was privileged to meet and interview some of the runners on Team Red Cross. Raising money for the Red Cross were 45 runners from seven states and four countries.

Michael Curtin
 One of those runners is Michael Curtin of Brewster, N.Y. Michael’s story is so compelling and his enthusiasm so contagious that you find yourself drawn to him, as well as inspired to maybe one day run/walk the race yourself.

Michael is a veteran of the Armed Forces, and his first encounter with the American Red Cross took place in 1994. Michael was about to be deployed to Somalia when his mother called with the devastating news that his father had unexpectedly died. Stunned, Michael wanted desperately to get home for his father’s funeral. He was in Fort Bragg, N.C about to leave for Somalia when two Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) workers arrived and escorted him back to base.

They helped him pack, drove him to the airport and handed him a roundtrip ticket home to Brewster. After the funeral, Red Cross SAF representatives met Michael at the airport and drove him back to base. What the SAF division of the Red Cross did for Michael and his family is forever etched in his heart. This is his third time running the NYC Marathon for the American Red Cross. "I will run the marathon for the Red Cross till they day I die,” Michael says. “They had my back.”

Simon Curtis
 Another runner raising money for the Red Cross is Simon Curtis who came all the way from Auckland, New Zealand. Simon says "If you want to run for a charity, this is the one." Simon was impressed with the response that the Red Cross had in New Zealand after the devastating earthquake that shook Christchurch, NZ, earlier this year. It’s Simon’s first time running; he’s been training for three months. Good on you Simon!

Marina Kanes
 Brendan Quinn and Marina Kanes were also running for the American Red Cross. Brendan is from across the river in Hoboken, N.J., and just wanted to raise money for a worthy cause. Marina, who lives in Manhattan, is raising money because her life was also touched by the Red Cross. In 2002 there was a fire in her building. Marina says the first people to knock on her door to see if she needed any assistance or a place to stay were the Red Cross. Luckily she had friends and family to turn to. But she remembers being "impressed" with the Red Cross response and has been looking for a way to repay the Red Cross ever since.

Rob Sell came all the way from Fort Worth, Texas. His brother inspired him to run the race for the Red Cross and so he did.

As an eyewitness to the Marathon you become caught up in the enthusiasm of these athletes. As you get to know their stories, you are not only impressed, but you find yourself rooting for them. I’m waiting to find out how they finished, and what their experiences were as they completed that 26.2 mile leg of their journey.

Rob Sell

My Life in Disaster is a series of blog posts by Maha Awad, who is volunteering with the Red Cross and finding out first-hand what it means to be prepared for life’s many disasters.